Ancient Plague Strains in Kyrgyzstan

The process of mapping ancient Yersinia pestis (plague) strains along the central Asian mountain chain, or greater Himalayas continues. Up to now, most of the living ancient strains have been mapped in Tibet/western China and a few scattered other places (Cui et al, 2010).  Russian scholars have a released data on mapped ancient strains of Yersinia... Continue Reading →

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Medieval Historians Taking Genomics into Account

At the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo (Kzoo) last month, I couldn't help feeling that we have reached a turning point. I went to four sessions that engaged in genomics, human and/or bacterial, in some way. Granted, these are a tiny proportion of the 500+ sessions offered, but I have learned that if you... Continue Reading →

Expanding the Historical Plague Paradigm

When the first complete genomic sequence of Yersinia pestis was published on October 4, 2001 the world was naturally focused elsewhere, on anthrax bioterrorism -- the Amerithrax incident was then in its second week-- and the September 11 attacks were just over three weeks old. As the world redeveloped bioterrorism assessments and plans, plague was... Continue Reading →

Microbial Forensics of a Natural Pneumonic Plague Outbreak

For bioterrorism agents like Yersinia pestis it is necessary to identify the strain and its source specifically enough for forensic use. Categorizing an epidemic isolate and tracing its source is always important for public health measures, but the level of precision is far higher for legal uses. Developing forensic techniques to characterize and parse very... Continue Reading →

Historians Chronicling Plague Genetic Discoveries

After my last post critiquing Cohn's scientific interpretations, I think its only fair to write about all the historians who are actively engaging and incorporating scientific findings in their work. I've communicated with a lot of historians who are following the scientific work on the plague and I know there will be some articles and... Continue Reading →

Antibiotic Resistance, Agriculture, and the Plague

Antibiotics have ended the uncontrollable outbreaks of plague in humans that stalked our ancestors. Today, outbreaks are usually snuffed out after a couple of cases with antibiotic treatment of patients, prophylactic treatment of contacts and vector control. Our greatest risks from plague today are a pneumonic plague outbreak/attack and the emergence of antibiotic resistance. Beginning... Continue Reading →

Molecular Confirmation of Yersinia pestis in 6th century Bavaria

Erasing any lingering doubts about the agent of the Plague of Justinian, a group of German biological anthropologists have shown conclusively that Yersinia pestis caused an epidemic in a 6th century Bavarian cemetery at Aschheim. Harbeck et al (2013) provide a convincing refutation of previous theories about the etiologic agent of the Plague of Justinian.... Continue Reading →

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